Lorena Gallo, formerly Bobbitt, is hoping that we’re ready to see her as more than a punchline about a severed penis. That maybe, just maybe, some fraction of the attention paid to former husband John Wayne Bobbitt’s dismembered member might now be brought to the issue of intimate partner violence. “They always just focused on it,” says Gallo in a New York Times profile. “And it’s like they all missed or didn’t care why I did what I did.”
Intimate partner violence, according to Gallo, is why she did what she did. In 1993, alleges Gallo, John came home drunk and raped her. Afterward, she says, she spotted a kitchen knife “and was overcome from years of abuse,” as Amy Chozick puts it in the Times. Although she says she doesn’t remember it, Gallo then cut off John’s penis and threw it in a field. (It was later “reattached and restored to (almost) full function,” as the Times reports.)
Lorena, a new four-part Amazon Prime documentary produced by Jordan Peele and premiering in February, attempts to tell that story, the one that got lost at the time. Men speaking on talk shows “made Lorena seem like an unsatisfied, unhinged wife who had dealt a ghastly blow in the gender wars,” writes Chozick. Some feminists, even, “argued that she had hurt the cause, making the sisterhood look deranged.” But, above all, it was the dismembered penis—more so than the allegations of intimate partner abuse—that gripped the public’s attention.
During the trial, “vendors sold ‘Love Hurts’ T-shirts and penis-shaped candy” outside of the courthouse. “I was the subject of so many jokes in the ’90s and to me it was just cruel,” Lorena told the Times. “They didn’t understand. Why would they laugh about my suffering?” Kim A. Gandy, former president of the National Organization for Women, told Chozick, “Nobody cared about anything except John and his surgery and his ‘loss.’”
John was tried, and acquitted, for marital rape. (“At the time,” notes Chozick, “marital rape only recently had been made a crime in all 50 states and was nearly impossible to prove in Virginia.”) But, as Chozick reports, Gallo’s trial saw a “string of witnesses... who testified that they had seen bruises on her arms and neck,” and revealed “that she had called 911 repeatedly and that John had bragged to friends about forcing his wife to have sex.” Since the trial, reports Chozick, “he was arrested several times and served jail time for violence against two different women.” John denies all of the claims.
Gallo spoke with documentarian Joshua Rofé for a year about the possibility of telling her story before deciding that the timing was right. It was partly the election of Donald Trump, which outraged her, as well as the #MeToo movement. Then came a series of projects, like I, Tonya and The Clinton Affair, which took a new look at “women engulfed in scandals in the 1990s,” as the Times puts it. “Maybe, she figured, her story could finally get equal billing to John’s penis,” writes Chozick.
Now, Gallo is OK with the penis jokes. “She understands that the reason she has a platform is because of the detached penis,” writes Chozick.” As Gallo put it, “I’ll put myself through the jokes and everything as long as I can shine a light on domestic violence and sexual assault and marital rape.”